British Airways Ditches Saatchi Brothers After 23 Years

11 October 2005

Until last weekend the close and longstanding relationship between British Airways and the brothers Charles and Maurice Saatchi had survived the ups and downs of over two decades.

After only the second repitch in M&C Saatchi's twenty-three year tenure, the agency led by the eponymous brothers has been ousted from the final shortlist for BA's £60 million ($105.6m; €87.1m) account, representing between 6% and 7% of the shop's annual turnover.

Ten years ago, when BA last reviewed the account, the Saatchis retaned the business by the skin of their teeth after Bartle Bogle Hegarty prematurely broke out the champagne.

The brothers gained the BA account in 1982, courtesy of prime minister Margaret Thatcher's favourite businessman, the late, acerbic Lord John King, whose ruthless approach to de-institutionalising BA led to the hiring of the [then] iconoclastic Saatchis.

BA became the anchor account of their fledgling agency Saatchi & Saatchi, and the unlikely relationship between King and the Saatchis survived the brothers' downfall in December 1994 - when their hubristic approach to managing the [by then] publicly listed company led to their toppling by Chicago fund manager David Herro.

Within months The Bros were up and running again with their new agency, M&C Saatchi, on whose runway British Airways duly touched down after what many believed was a token review.

The account remained in the Saatchis' grasp without contest for the next ten years. Few in the industry were suprised at this, given the closeness of the brothers' relationship with King and his ceo - and eventual successor - Sir Colin [later Lord] Marshall.

The love-in was continued with two successive BA chief executives, Robert Ayling, then Rod Eddington who stepped down earlier this year.

But such fruitful business relationships are not infinitely renewable. In May 2005 BA apppointed a new ceo, Willie Walsh, a former pilot with Irish national carrier Aer Lingus, who rose through that airline's management ranks to become chief executive in 1999.

During the past four months, Walsh has familiarised himself with BA's labyrinthine workings and commercial relationships, formally stepping into the ceo's shoes on October 1. It is under his aegis that the brothers Saatchi now bid farewell to BA's red white and blue livery.

The identity of the victorious agency is not yet known outside BA's corridors of power. Still on the shortlist are WPP Group's JWT and Omnicom's DDB. The frontrunner, however, is UK-headquartered independent network Bartle Bogle Hegarty in which Publicis holds a minority stake.

Says the airline: "The decision-making process continues and we hope to announce who we will appoint as our advertising agency in the coming weeks."

Says a plaintive M&C Saatchi: "Willie Walsh said no decision had been taken."

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff